One of the most common questions I’m asked is ‘what’s the one place to visit in New Zealand?’ Now it’s not an easy task to narrow all of NZ’s goodness down to just one place but if there was one location that summed it all up for me it would have to be the Mt Cook National Park in the Mackenzie High Country. So, if you’re heading to the South Island and are a little tight on time, here’s 5 must do’s whilst in the Mackenzie Region.
1.Hooker Valley Track – Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park
In the heart of the Mackenzie stands New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mt Cook. At an imposing 3.7kms tall, Mt Cook (Aoraki) is a sight to behold whether near or far and is guaranteed to take your breath away upon first sight. Being in the presence of this mountain is an overwhelming and near spiritual experience, something that can’t quite be described but only felt.
To gain but a fraction of the sheer enormity of this peak and be humbled by the might of New Zealands mountains, the Hooker Valley Track is a must do. At 5kms one-way, this track leads you across large swing bridges, beside raging waters, up close to glaciers and glacial lakes all beneath towering snow capped peaks. Commencing at the White Horse Camp Ground and finishing at the Hooker Lake, the track is relatively flat, well maintained and doesn’t require much hiking experience. The track is suitable year round but I’m a sucker for the magical snow and ice of winter. Although Mt Cook is notorious for hiding behind cloud just persevere, the weather moves fast in New Zealand and often defies all trusted weather reports. Even just a brief glimpse is worth it.
2. Tasman Lake – Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park
Just east of the Hooker Valley and still within the Mt Cook National Park is the Tasman Valley. Here you will find the glacially fed Tasman Lake, often filled with large (sometimes bus sized) pieces of ice this lake is surrounded by snow capped peaks with glacier views and a nice angle of the peak of Mt Cook.
There are a couple walks you can do here, all relatively easy and equally rewarding. The Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier view leads up to an elevated vantage point offering epic 360 degree panoramic views but it’s the flatter track that leads around to the river at the edge of the lake that I love most. You can go kayaking here and get up close to the ice masses and it’s also an awesome location for sunrise as the face of Mt Cook and surrounding mountains turn shades of pink and gold in the soft morning light.
3. Lake Tekapo – Mt John Observatory
Famous for the picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo boasts vibrant turquoise glacial waters and stunning views of the Southern Alps which can be best viewed from the top of Mt John. A very scenic and winding road leads you straight to the summit where you can grab a coffee at the cafe, do a star gazing tour at the Observatory or simply go for a walk around and take in the stunning 360 degree views. Although you can look down on to the township of Lake Tekapo, it’s the views the the north west that I like most with the lesser known Lake Alexandrina in sight as well as a great overview of the numerous patterns and textures of the High Country landscape.
4. Unwind and grab a coffee at Burkes Pass
Just down the road from Tekapo, Burkes Pass is a small historic town with a laid back pace. Here you can chill out with a coffee and explore some of the local art and historic memorabilia as well as go fishing or hit the ski fields in winter.
5. Grab a bite to eat at Fairlie
Continuing beyond Burkes Pass will lead you to Fairlie, the gateway of the Mackenzie. This small rural town is great to grab a bite to eat and stretch your legs as you explore the museum, galleries, cafes and the Mt Dobson ski field in winter. I visited during autumn and got to experience the stunning golden colours of the tree lined streets and parks which made for a nice place to sit down for a picnic.
As always, I want to thank Air NZ for safely getting me across to this beautiful country and back.
Looking forward to the next visit!